Concierge steps into the halls of Louvre Abu Dhabi on Saadiyat Island to witness the passage of time through art. Words by Rhea Swain
One of the very first sights that capture your attention while driving to Louvre Abu Dhabi is the iconic silver dome of the museum. It’s quite unlike anything you’ve ever seen before, gleaming majestically against the backdrop of the blue waters of Saadiyat Island. A brilliant feat of engineering by the Pritzker Architecture Prize-winning Jean Nouvel, the dome appears to float above the white-walled buildings, thanks to hidden support pillars.A beacon of art and culture, standing proudly under the Abu Dhabi sun, that first glimpse of the museum conveys that the experiences waiting inside will be nothing less than extraordinary.
And that is just what you feel standing beneath its filigreed crown to witness the ‘rain of light’ created by rays of the sun filtering through the many layers of the dome. The effect casts dapples on the minimalist walls and floors of the museum and was inspired by the way sunlight streams in through the gaps in palm-frond roofs in this part of the world. Its 55 interconnected buildings, 23 of which are art galleries, also draw inspiration from the traditional Middle Eastern medina, which is a series of narrow alleys and plazas, moving from light to shade and back again.It is little wonder then that this iconic destination that houses some of the world’s most prominent artwork, is an ever-evolving masterpiece in itself.
Water characterises the meandering from building to building. Artistic, symbolic and functional, its ingenious use captures the essence of the island location of Louvre Abu Dhabi while also shining a light on the important role that the sea has played in the UAE’s history. The Emirati institution was established as a result of an intergovernmental agreement between Abu Dhabi and France. Dubbed ‘a universal museum in the Arab world’, it has already achieved much in the first two of its 30 planned years in the UAE capital. Today, it is home to hundreds of artworks and artefacts ranging from prehistoric to contemporary times and the inventory of new acquisitions hardly seems to cease.
And there are many more on the way, especially now, that Louvre Abu Dhabi has ushered in a new season dedicated to the entire spectrum of art.The museum is supported by contributions from Agence France-Museums, a gathering of 17 of France’s most prestigious institutions, and this has helped cement Abu Dhabi’s status as one of the region’s and the world’s up-and-coming cultural hotspots.
CURRENTLY ON SHOWCASE AT LOUVRE ABU DHABI
Rendezvous in Paris: Picasso, Chagall, Modigliani & Co. (1900-1939) The exhibition will run from September 18 until December 7 and will showcase a line-up of more than 80 creations, all of which will be on display for the very first time in the Middle East.
Louvre Abu Dhabi invites guests to “see humanity in a new light”. Exhibits are curated chronologically rather than by geography, drawing parallels – not divides – between different cultures and their progression over time. It pays homage to the UAE’s welcoming nature and sits fittingly with the country’s adopted theme for 2019, Year of Tolerance. Our journey begins in The Great Vestibule, where artefacts date back to around 2,000 to 3,000 BCE from regions such as ancient Greece, Syria and Central Africa. Walking through these halls is like taking a step back in time, all the way back to The First Villages. Here, a collection of ancient art and relics can be found.
One of the most significant pieces includes a carefully preserved, monumental two-headed statue from Jordan, estimated to date back to around 6,500 BCE. You’ll also find an enigmatic female figurine, entitled ‘Woman dressed in a Woolen Garment’, hailing from Central Asia and dating back to around 2,300 BCE. Thought to be a protective deity, the Bactrian Princesses stands tall and appears to watch over the museum’s exhibits. Moving on, you will journey from the evolution of war in The First Great Powers with its collections of ancient Egyptian artefacts, to the evolution of political thinking in Civilisations and Empires. Here, Greek heroes such as Socrates and Alexander the Great are honoured and the galleries chronicle humanity from all sides. Placing the world’s many faiths peacefully together, Universal Religions houses religious texts and art from all over the world. A display of unity between various spiritual beliefs, it celebrates diversity over divide.
Artefacts here include a 13th-century Quran from Syria and a dancing Lord Shiva statue from ancient India. Among the most recent acquisitions are an Avalokiteshvara Buddhist sculpture from China, dating back to the 11th or 12th century, an 18th-century Japanese Samurai armour and a jewelled 18th-century katar dagger from India inlaid with a bedazzling 481 rubies and almost one hundred emeralds. Back in the day, the weapon was worn as a symbol of wealth and power. In keeping with contemporary times, modern art lovers will not be disappointed with the museum’s collection. The penultimate gallery, Changing Modernity, houses the work of many beloved 20th-century trailblazers such as Matisse, Mondrian, Pollock and Rothko as well as local talent from the across the UAE The final gallery showcases an immersive installation by contemporary artist Susanna Fritscher. Titled Für die Luft, the piece was specifically created for the museum’s unique architecture and play of light.
But the journey does not have to end once you exit the galleries. There is much to do at Louvre Abu Dhabi beyond the art itself, from soaking in the picturesque scenery from the Museum Café to kayaking through the waters surrounding the architectural marvel.